AI-powered virtual assistant may soon smooth your business travel

Enterprise software by 30SecondsToFly can learn companies’ policies, travelers’ preferences when making arrangements

Travelers can reach 30SecondsToFly's virtual travel assistant, called "Claire," through SMS, Skype, Slack or Facebook. (Courtesy)
Travelers can reach 30SecondsToFly's virtual travel assistant, called "Claire," through SMS, Skype, Slack or Facebook. (Courtesy)

The startup 30SecondsToFly, based in New York City and Bangkok, is aiming to use artificial intelligence and natural language processing to automate and improve the travel processes currently performed by corporate travel agents.

“We aim at becoming the scalable travel management company of the future,” says Riccardo Vittoria, co-founder of 30SecondsToFly in an interview, saying his is among a handful of the trip tech enterprises that are pioneering a new generation of business travel.

30SecondsToFly is one of the five startups chosen by El Al Israel Airlines and JetBlue Technology Ventures to take part in the first cycle of their international accelerator program for technologies in the air travel industry.

Every year companies around the world spend more than $1 trillion US on corporate trips. Even though this market is enormous, it is still dominated by a few giant travel management companies whose business model hasn’t changed in more than half a century.

Now this market is under attack. Thanks to the increasing availability of data, growing efficiency of processing power and steep progress in machine learning, emerging players now have the opportunity to reinvent the outdated agency model. The travel industry, which already underwent the internet revolution two decades ago, is on the cusp of a second significant disruption, said Vittoria, as companies will leverage artificial intelligence to build a business model that is driven by data.

“We use natural language processing and machine learning technology to automate and improve processes that to date are being done by corporate travel agents,” Vittoria said.

Even though its technology is widely applicable to corporate travel, 30SecondsToFly is targeting the small business sector, where management has a tough time keeping tabs on travel expenditures.

“We have evaluated the business travel market extensively and have found a market gap among small and mid-sized companies. In the US, 60 percent of them do not manage their corporate travel. Their employees book business trips on leisure travel platforms somewhere online, which makes tracking and controlling of corporate travel spend impossible for management,” said Felicia Schneiderhan, co-founder and CEO. “This leaves a market of more than $36 billion untapped,” she said.

30SecondsToFly’s technology is a smart travel assistant called “Claire,” which it hopes will help businesses save both time and money. The technology will be in private beta stage early next year. A new form of enterprise software with a conversational interface and learning capability, Claire books and tracks business trips for SMBs. Claire learns the company’s travel policies and travel preferences of its employees. With these “in mind,” Claire compares hundreds of possible trip options and optimizes them to “smart itineraries.”

Travelers can communicate with Claire via Slack, Facebook, SMS and Skype in free text, which reduces booking and rescheduling of personalized, policy compliant trips to a few minutes.

At the same time, management has full visibility into travel analytics and can, therefore, reduce travel expenses systematically, said Vittoria. Through its high degree of automation, 30SecondsToFly can offer its technology at an attractive price point to the SMB market.

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